Sep 21, 2016 0 comments

By: Leo Dillinger

Photography By JPG Photography

Charles Franzone III was a month away from starting a dream job in California when he first noticed the former Pat and Bobby’s Manayunk Steaks location at 114 Levering Street. After looking through the window of the vacant building, Charles imagined a new future for himself that would continue the 60-year legacy of his family’s business.

Since 1955, the Franzone name has been synonymous with family-style pizza when Charles’ grandfather opened their first pizzeria in Bridgeport, PA. Now more than half a century later, Charles’ uncle has taken over the original location and his dad has operated a second shop in Conshohocken well before Charles was even born.

“I grew up in the business. My dad worked 90 to 100 hour weeks. I was always there after school doing my homework sitting at a booth,” Charles said. “Growing up in it, it’s become second nature. I’m almost more comfortable there than I am laying on the couch at home.”

Even though he was on the verge of a huge break with the new job opportunity, Charles called his dad after seeing the property at the corner of Levering and Cresson and told him that if they could acquire the building, he would cancel his California plans and open a third restaurant under the family name.

It took nine months to renovate the space, but Charles and his friend/manager Matt Jacobson officially opened Franzone’s Manayunk on April 7, 2015. Charles, now 26 years old, learned to grow up at a much faster rate during that process. He knew the product and the brand, but running a business, managing employees who were also his friends, and maintaining a reputation that reflected the quality of the other Franzone’s locations were his greatest challenges.

“Because the other stores are so successful, our standard is so much higher. We’re always going to be compared to the other two stores, and even those stores get compared to each other,” Charles said. “For me, it’s being tedious about the recipes, being tedious about how things are getting sent out, how things are packaged, what it looks like. It sounds simple but because we have that other store, it’s a blessing and a curse. The name is there, the brand is there, the marketability is there, and the product is there, but now you have to measure up to all of that.”

Charles’ Manayunk restaurant may not be as big or as well established as the other two locations but after more than a year of being in business, he’s taken notice of what works and adjusted the menu to fit the clientele. If you’ve never had Franzone’s before, Charles recommends trying their homemade soups, cheesesteaks and other sandwiches, and of course, their pizza.

You might take a step back when you first see a Franzone’s pie. But rest assured, the notorious sauce swirl on top of the cheese is no mistake. Charles’ great-grandmother came up with the sweet sauce recipe back when the original Franzone’s location used to be DeJohn’s Steaks. Because of its sweetness, the sauce is spiraled on top of the pie to compliment the homemade dough and cheese blend.

“Manayunk now sells itself, which is cool. Everybody’s out and about looking for new things to try,” Charles said. “I knew we had something special because we’ve been in business for 60 years. I knew that the one thing we were going to be able to bring to Manayunk that it didn’t already have was that home family restaurant. We’re strictly here to bring the best pizza to Manayunk.”

One of the perks of a family business is the diverse clientele. Some are longtime customers who used to frequent the Conshohocken location and are thrilled to have a Franzone’s in their own backyard. They’ll tell Charles fascinating stories about the other Franzone family members and make the connections. Then there’s the new customers, the ones who move to Manayunk and immediately fall in love with their food. They’re the culinary influencers who can’t help but spread the word, like the college seniors who pass the tradition onto the underclassmen. Charles’s end goal is to become that neighborhood staple where residents say with pride, “This is where we get our pizza.”

“We want people to know that we care about our product more so than probably most people because it represents a family,” Charles said. “My last name is Franzone. When I hear people talking about our food, I take it personally. It’s a reflection on me. It’s a reflection on my dad. It’s a reflection on my grandfather. It gets deep because of how long it’s been around where it’s something that you can’t buy into.”

Charles admires the tight-knit community that Manayunk has to offer and the fact that living in close quarters on a hillside really forces both old and new residents to coexist. Being a part of a long-standing family business really put the neighborhood into perspective for him. Charles witnesses the transition of the neighborhood and is excited to play a part in a new generation of business owners.

“It’s funny now to think in five or ten years we’ll ask ourselves, ‘How did we ever not have a store in Manayunk?’” Charles laughs. “It was the perfect next step to keep things going and keep things fresh. It rejuvenated some of our older family members. It brought a justification for them where there’s a whole new life now. It could go on for another 60 years.”

Charles opened Franzone’s Manayunk to pay homage to his grandfather, his father, and all his family members who’ve helped establish the restaurants’ superb reputations. It’s a symbol of the family’s hard work coming into fruition. Charles was ready to leave it all behind when offered the job in California, thinking that it would be his big break. Ultimately, he turned it down and hasn’t felt any regret because he knows he made the right decision in the long run.

“To sum it all up, family is first no matter what. Any business has to make money and it’s there to make money, but this is a family business,” Charles said. “Our family is strong. It’s one unified family among all three stores and I honestly believe that’s why we are still successful because the competition is friendly. You’re never going to find people in your life who are going to be better to you than your family.”

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